Juan Mata believes Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney is one of the greatest players England has ever produced.
Mata will not have the chance to face off against his club colleague when England host Spain at Wembley on Tuesday after Rooney missed training on Monday and later withdrew from Gareth Southgate’s squad with a minor knee injury.
Rooney has struggled for form this season, losing his guaranteed starting spot with United and England amid debates over his best position as the 31-year-old enters the final stages of a glittering career.
He stands as England’s all-time record goalscorer and is two goals shy of the same mark for United, feats that Mata feels should help critics to view Rooney in the correct context.
“I consider him a legend,” Mata told Marca.
“As for matches and goals, he is up to above Sir Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker [for England]. We are talking about the most important players in the history of English football.
“Wayne has achieved things that few have reached. He is at the highest level in the history of English football.
“Sometimes I have the impression that it is not fair to look only at the present and not the path – everything that has made a player for his club or country. That is the case with Wayne.”
Mata has been one of the success stories of an underwhelming start to the season at Old Trafford under Jose Mourinho, especially in light of marquee signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba arriving during the close season.
Nevertheless, the playmaker has no doubt that star duo will scale the heights they hit for Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus respectively at United.
“It is true that the pace [of the Premier League] is very different from France or Italy,” he added.
“But we are talking about two super players, that is beyond doubt. Expectations are very high, but I think they are doing very well.”